The deep South's fast-growing, do-everything tree
Second only to Douglas fir in the nation's storehouse of trees, longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) has for centuries been the mainstay of the southern forest products industry. In ideal conditions it attains 100' in height, with a trunk up to 3' in diameter. In a range that extends from North Carolina to east Texas, longleaf pine grows quickly. At five years of age, saplings begin a 35- to 50-year surge that produces trees up to 80' tall.
True to its name, this tree has the longest needles of any conifer -- up to 20'! It's longleaf pine's wood, though, that attracted loggers' attention. Hard, heavy, strong, and durable, its yellowish-orange heartwood (which prompts the common title "yellow pine") has been used for everything from building beams and bridge girders to flooring, ship masts, spars, and railway ties. Together with slash pine, longleaf pine also has been a major contributor of its resinous gum for such products as turpentine, printing ink, varnish, and paint.
Today, however, a great percentage of longleaf pine, as well as loblolly, shortleaf, and slash pine -- all commercially grouped as "southern pine" -- are harvested to become pressure-treated lumber and timbers. In fact, because of their ease of treatability, longleaf pine and its three cousins comprise about 85 percent of all pressure-treated lumber.
In spite of this, the fast-growing and versatile longleaf pine has not lacked natural enemies. Among insects, the southern pine beetle rates as Enemy Number One. Fire, too, can lay waste a longleaf pine forest, especially if its trees have been tapped for gum -- the dried resin covering the scars easily ignites. And surprisingly -- although naturally enough -- wild hogs display an appetite for the roots of young longleaf pine trees. One "razorback" can ravage 100 or more in a day.